Lorikeet exhibits in  zoos     

By Rosemary Low

I bought my first lories in 1971 and have specialised in these birds ever since. Indeed, my oldest bird, a Yellow-streaked Lory, now with me for more than 35 years, originates from that decade. As curator of birds at Loro Parque, Tenerife, and Palmitos Park, Gran Canaria, during the late 1980s and 1990s, I was very fortunate to have in my care almost every species of lory in aviculture, excluding certain Australian species which were not permitted to be exported.

I have seen the popularity of lories and lorikeets in aviculture rise and fall like a big dipper. In the late 1970s when  many species were imported commercially for the first time, they reached the height of popularity. However, in the  late 1980s and early 1990s when misguided dealers brought in large numbers of wild-caught birds at low prices, many breeders sold up. The birds went to dealers who sold them abroad. Gradually the numbers in the UK fell to the low level of the current decade.

                         

Rainbow Lorikeets enjoy a bathing frenzy at 

Avifauna Bird Park in the Netherlands

In the early 1990s some zoos in the USA followed the example of San Diego and set up lorikeet exhibits where the public could feed the birds, who would descend onto their hands to take nectar from tiny pots. The public bought this food so the idea that money was to be made from such exhibits gradually spread to the UK. New lorikeet exhibits, usually for Rainbow (Swainsons) Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus) or Green-naped Lorikeets (T.h.haematodus) are still being opened.

Unfortunately, some of them leave a lot to be desired. It seems the lorikeets are being exploited -- the commercial aspect apparently taking priority over proper management. As an example of good management, Paradise Park in Cornwall could hardly be bettered. Indeed, some staff from lorikeet exhibits have visited Paradise Park to learn the correct method. This approach is to be recommended, especially if they act on what they have learned!

Source of stock and quarantine methods

There are some important lesson that need to be learned by any zoo that is considering opening a lorikeet exhibit. At Paradise Park curator David Woolcock had the good sense to set up pairs of Green-naped Lorikeets and Rainbow Lorikeets well in advance of the exhibit opening and to breed the required birds. Indeed, from the initial ten Rainbow Lorikeets acquired from one UK breeder in 2004, well over 60 young had been reared by 2011. These young are used in the exhibit, not the pairs. The disadvantage was that large numbers were not available initially. The advantage was that the birds were known to be healthy and could be trained to take food from an early age.

What have other zoos done when seeking to open a lorikeet exhibit. They have enquired what was available from UK breeders and finding that sufficient numbers could not be acquired from one source, at least three zoos sourced birds from a dealer in the Netherlands. They had come from various collections.

The result was that these zoos received birds that tested positive for PBFD (psittacine beak and feather disease) and/or polyomavirus. One zoo decided to euthanase all these birds. However,  there were at least eight birds in the same quarantine space from a reliable breeder in the UK.  They were in perfect health but they too were euthanased. The breeder was devastated to learn this. A zoo should know better than to place birds  in quarantine before the previous birds have finished their quarantine.

At another UK zoo,

Another zoo treated their birds on arrival: several were positive for PBFD. They decided to manage their diseased flock like a quarantine, that is, keepers who look after these birds do not enter the aviaries of other birds, use foot dips at the entrance and change their boots and overalls when they clean out the lorikeet exhibit. I will not comment on this but only report their method.  It is to be hoped that the quarantine method means that no lorikeets will be leaving this collection. I suspect that even disease testing is not adequate to identify diseased birds that could unknowingly be sold because it depends on birds shedding the virus at the time they were tested.

Several lorikeets at this zoo died within the first two months and on autopsy were found to have the adenovirus. The risk involved in bringing in lorikeets that have not been blood-tested for disease cannot be over-stated. Refusal to buy birds that have not been disease-tested does at least send out a message to the seller that the disease risk is being taken seriously.

Superior lorikeet exhibits

Lorikeet exhibits need to be large so that the birds can retreat from the public if they wish. A superb example is the lorikeet aviary at the bird park (Parc des Oiseaux) in Villars les Dombes in France. Three hundred Rainbow Lorikeets can be seen in a planted aviary of excellent design that covers 700 square metres. Opened in May 2012, it will be a while before the trees mature. Jurong BirdPark in Singapore has a huge, heavily planted lorikeet aviary that is a joy to behold. Its great height allows one to look down on the birds.

                     

Black-capped Lory in the immense aviary at Jurong BirdPark

Feeding of lorikeets in zoo exhibits

Another serious concern is that relating to the quality of the food offered to the lorikeets. In one case the manager of a lorikeet exhibit admitted that the birds were not in good feather and the breeding results were very poor. On enquiring about the food, I understood why. They were being fed a commercial product of very inferior quality. Unfortunately, many lorikeets are fed this food because it is one of the least expensive and readily available in the UK. Good quality lory foods are not cheap. At Paradise Park an excellent mixture is made from a variety of nutritious ingredients. The staff there readily share this recipe with anyone who enquires.

To encourage lorikeets to take food from visitors, the lorikeets in some exhibits might be without food for an unacceptable period. The liquid food that forms the mainstay of the diet, passes through them rapidly, meaning that lorikeets need to feed often. In the wild they feed throughout the day, not mainly in early morning and late afternoon, like other parrots. Care need to be taken at zoos that all the lorikeets, especially any timid ones, are receiving an adequate amount of food. If not, deaths will occur.

Profit comes first?

Despite the disease problems, poor feather and poor breeding results, the management of one lory exhibit were delighted because it had proved extremely profitable. I would appeal to all zoos who keep these delightful birds in walk-through aviaries entered by the public to consider the welfare of their lorikeets first.  Some zoos are doing a great disservice to lory keeping in the UK and Europe and to aviculture in general by employing staff who lack the knowledge and/or the future planning to source healthy birds. Furthermore, when they acquire  the lorikeets, they employ staff who either do not understand the requirements of these birds or whose superiors have not taken the trouble to find out what they need.

Warning

Lories and lorikeets are among the most aggressive birds and cannot normally be kept in a colony. The two sub-species (Rainbow and Green-naped) mentioned are exceptions. Some zoos have, despite advice to the contrary, set up exhibits using several lory species: it looks more colourful. This is irresponsible because it inevitably ends in deaths.

One zoo claims that young birds of various species can be kept together.

However, even young lorikeets will kill those of another species. It saddens me greatly at a time when the numbers of lories and lorikeets in aviculture are declining that they are misused in this way -- to say nothing of terrified birds being hounded and attacked by others, then fatally injured.

Conclusion

Zoos considering opening a lorikeet exhibit need to think long-term. The recommended procedure is to acquire young pairs, set them up for breeding (one pair per aviary) and to use only the young in the exhibit. These young birds will be much easier to train to take food from the public than birds (often of unknown age) acquired from a dealer. Even more importantly, this eliminates the risk of starting the exhibit with diseased birds.



 

 
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